It’s funny how life works, isn’t it? When I was in elementary school, for example, I loathed bath time because it inconveniently interfered with my favorite Nickelodeon shows, and I was terrified of runny shampoo getting in my eyes. Nowadays, I live for baths, and I seize the opportunity to pamper my skin with colorful bath bombs, sweet-smelling candles, and exfoliating salts whenever I can. But are baths better for you than showers? I mean, from a physical perspective, I would think cleanliness is better achieved through a shower head than by soaking for long periods of time in a tub, but as far as mental health benefits are concerned, I’m thinking time in the tub does more for your mind.
It’s as if baths have been upgraded from a hygienic duty, to a truly luxurious wellness ritual. Of course, I can only speak for myself, but my girlfriends and I are always texting each other about different products we’ve been using in the bath, like swapping study notes before an exam.
Drawing a bath isn’t just a means to an end anymore; it’s the perfect ending to a rough day, or the cherry on top of a Sunday pampering session. I'm sure for some people, showers can have the same effect, but in my book, it's just not the same.
There are plenty of physical health benefits that come with soaking in a bath.
If you think about it too much (which, for the record, I don’t suggest you do), soaking in the tub can seem a little gross, but the actual ways in which it affects your health are pretty interesting. For one thing, according to SHAPE, exercise physiologists have found that bathing in warm water raises your body temperature in the same way that working out can. According to a 2016 study on the subject, this means that your heart rate goes up, and your blood pressure and blood flow become stabilized. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can substitute a workout with bath-time, but it’s certainly a perk you probably weren't aware of until now.
What’s more, blocking off 30 minutes or so to laze in the bath can be really beneficial when you’re sick, according to Lush. The steam emerging from the water opens up your lungs and sinuses, making it easier for your body to relax and mucus to loosen, so you can actually breathe.
You could also consider bathing as one of the first steps in your skincare routine. California-based dermatologist Annie Chiu, M.D., told Elle,
There’s definitely a mind-skin connection [because] stress can interfere with your immune system and affect the skin’s ability to heal. That’s why [baths] can help with acne, hair loss, and skin issues like eczema, inflammation, and hives.
On top of their many physical benefits, baths have an effect on your mental health, as well.
Lying in a tub filled to the brim with warm water is so incredibly soothing, I’d probably go as far as to describe the experience as therapeutic. Half the time, people’s schedules these days are so hectic that they barely make time for more than a quick wash — they’re in and they’re out within 10 minutes' time, or even less. But, when used to its full potential, a bath can transform into an oasis of calm, modified to your preference.
According to Jessie Violet Larson, a medical massage therapist with UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine in Pittsburgh, taking a bath is one of the best things you can do to relieve stress. I mean, what else is there to do in the tub (other than, you know, cleaning up) besides clearing your mind and reflecting in the midst of all the suds? Larson told Reader’s Digest that some of the best ways to make bath-time more serviceable for your mental health is to add to the experience with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, some candles, relaxing music, aromatherapy (essential oils, perhaps?), and leaving your phone locked away in your bedroom so you can solely focus on the experience.
I’m not sure what I love more about baths: the fact that soaking reduces stress, or that regularly taking baths will, inevitably, improve your mood. I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out for you, but I will anyway, just in case: The less stressed you are, the happier you feel. Therefore, the more relaxing baths you indulge in during the week, the more likely you are to feel happier overall.
So, the next time school, work, or just life in general has you feeling flustered, gather up your favorite oils, candles, balms, and the like. Set your bath water to warm, let the tub fill to your liking, and indulge in a lengthy soak. Your state of mind depends on it, and the physical benefits are just an added bonus.